About five minutes into the fourth quarter, I had all but finalized a heartwarming piece highlighting the sensational play of the Washington Wizards’ bench. At the end of the game, I promptly deleted it and repeatedly smashed my face into my keyboard.
When I put my broken keyboard, and heart, back together, the struggle then became finding the right words to describe the slow-death that took place on the floor before us inside the Verizon Center on Sunday night. After staring off into space for several long minutes, that’s when it hit me.
The reason the words were so difficult to come up with is because the Wizards weren’t supposed to lose Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Indiana Pacers. They weren’t supposed to go down 3-1. Washington was supposed to tie the series up at 2-2 and head back to Indiana with new life.
Instead, they had what was rightfully theirs stolen right out from under their noses.
The setting was right. The Phone Booth was rocking (Ringing? Buzzing?). The hometown crowd in D.C. was as alive as ever for what could have been the final home game of the season. The Wizards fed off that energy, in the first half, and carried a 55-38 lead into the half.
The Senior Center, The Oldies But Goodies, The AARP Unit (saw that one on Twitter), whatever you want to call them, the bench for the Wizards, primarily Drew Gooden, Andre Miller and Al Harrington, didn’t play like they were 32, 38 and 34 years old respectively. Off the bench, they fueled Washington’s fight with 28 points between the three of them.
Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza both shot 2-for-4 from behind the arc and the Wizards collectively shot 45.6-percent from the floor. At the free throw line, they went 15-for-19. The shooting struggles that they went through in Games 2 and 3 seemingly disappeared. Shots were falling and the Wizards seemed poised to take back some control in a series that was certainly held captive by the Pacers.
But alas, the sleeping giant that is the Eastern Conference’s number one seed woke up. After being embarrassed to end the first half, the Pacers then stuck it to the Wizards in the second half. In front of the red, white and blue faithful, Indiana sent a powerful message to the District, and the NBA.
They outscored the Wizards 57-37 in the second half, highlighted by a 33-17 third quarter. Indiana had an answer for everything Washington threw at them. That answer took the form of small forward Paul George.
In a game-high 46 minutes, George poured in 39 points on 12-20 shooting, including seven three-pointers. At the free throw line, he made 8 of his 10 attempts and managed to grab 12 rebounds, as well. Not to be overlooked, Roy Hibbert added 17 points and George Hill provided 15 points of his own.
Ultimately, the Wizards were their own worst enemies and the Pacers took advantage of their mistakes. Washington had victory well within its grasp, but Indiana snatched it away thanks to a slow third quarter and a clutch performance from one of their stars.
Following a night as emotional as Sunday, it’s almost cruel to be reminded that there is still one more game (at least) left to be played. The 95-92 loss at home in Game 4 was so devastating, so debilitating, that any hope that remained for this season was quickly drawn away like a popped balloon. You could feel in the arena; you could see it on social media.
On Tuesday night, however, that’s exactly what Washington is faced with. For the first time since 2008, the Wizards will take the floor with their postseason on the line. With a win, they get to play another day. Should they lose, they’ll board the plane back to Washington for one final time.
Tipoff for Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals is Tuesday night at 7 PM EST in Indianapolis.